Columbus Supplier to Retailers Sees Sewing as Route to Growth

The article was initially published by Dan Eaton in Columbus Business First.

A Columbus company aims to be a close-to-home option for apparel sampling and production.

I chatted with Dismas Distribution Services CEO Bob Parsons and Denise Falter-Conklin, director of sales and sewing operations, about the company’s evolution and its efforts to keep in step with the fast-paced retail world.

While the business will continue the services it was built on, it sees a future in an expanded sewing operation, especially given its existing relationships with Central Ohio-based retailers such as L Brands Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Columbus-based Homage LLC is another example. Those labels in the back of the T-shirts? Sewn in by Dismas employees.

But there is potential beyond that.

“We were talking with a client and I told them we’re going to eventually have our sewing operation within 2017 to create samples,” Parsons said. “Would that help if we could do that? They were like, ‘Yes, considering we just sent 30 tech designers for three weeks to Tokyo just to create the design to bring back the samples for our people to try on before we even make tweaks to them.’”

That’s more work that can be done here in the U.S. and, the way Dismas sees it, in Columbus.

“When you’re talking about speed to market and you’re talking about saving from three weeks to nine days on just that piece?” Parsons said. “Significant. That’s why I say significant growth.”

Both Parsons and Falter-Conklin said many sample rooms are in further flung locales like Los Angeles and Asia. A sample room is a place where a client can come in and see examples of and samples of products. Issues like design and measurement are sorted out there and then orders would be placed for mass production.

“Typically what happens is the designer comes up with the design,” Parsons said. “Then the tech people say, great, but that won’t work in production. Then they do these samples. They put those on the fit models and then they have to tweak this, tweak this, tweak this. That’s before it ever hits production.”

The plan is to have a full-scale sample room established this year fit to do sample and production runs of products for customers, giving those clients the ability to decide on products closer to when those items need to be in the store. From a production standpoint, Dismas has a goal of 50,000 units a week. 

“We can help them solve a problem, right here in their backyard,” Falter-Conklin said.

She said fabric would still be made overseas but could be cut and sewn in Columbus. There are companies in town that handle dying and printing as well.

Parsons sees potential to create a scaled-down version of New Albany’s Personal Care & Beauty Campus — a collection of L Brands Inc. suppliers working on soaps, scents, lotions, and candles — but focused on sewing, dyeing and printing apparel.

Dismas has been acquiring new sewing equipment and will be adding staff.

Falter-Conklin shared one example of the new sewing work it is picking up and how Dismas can handle it. A client ordered 54,000 T-shirts, but at some point between order and arrival, the client decided it wanted changes. Instead of normal T-shirts, it wanted some of that lot to be altered with deep v-necks and crop tops.

“They wanted to create a new look, something that would generate more interest,” Falter-Conklin said.

Dismas did the work, taking those original shirts and making the desired alterations.

“It was neat for me to watch from the sidelines because I think there were three call-outs from Denise where they said, ‘Great callout, good idea,’” Parsons said. “When she’s calling someone from a tech design standpoint and they’re going, ‘Absolutely, that’s great. Or, we didn’t think about that, you’re right.’ Now we’ve gained a lot of credibility.”

The company, based in Columbus near Reynoldsburg, is in a 60,000-square-foot space and expects to add another 10,000 to 20,000 square feet this year to accommodate the sewing expansion.

“You can really see what the opportunity is here, especially in Columbus,” Falter-Conklin said. “There’s so much potential to grow it with the retailers.”

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